The connection starts in urban neighborhoods with a group of young kids playing a game of pick-up ball. More often than not, a hip-hop song is blasting in the background to get everyone pumped up.
Hip-hop culture and basketball have always been linked, but especially rap music and the NBA, which have an increasingly comparable market. Many rappers make reference to humble beginnings, basketball terms and success stories in their music, making it relatable and appealing for players to listen to.
Since both NBA players and successful artists are similar in that, a lot of the time, they acquire fame and fortune, many become fast friends. Stars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving have been outspoken about having valuable relationships with rappers because they understand each other’s childhood struggles.
That’s why the death of Nipsey Hussle has hit the basketball community so hard.
Hussle, 33, was a rapper, songwriter and activist who was shot and killed outside of his own store, The Marathon Clothing, in Hyde Park, CA. Hussle was a noted NBA fan, especially of the Los Angeles Lakers, and maintained close relationships with many players.
Irving is one friend who is deeply affected by the tragedy.
“It’s just hard, you know, being young, having the world at your fingertips and knowing what Nipsey stood for and what he was trying to promote in his community and around the world,” he said. “We are all emotionally invested in lyrics that artists are putting out there and what they represent.”
Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, made valiant efforts towards changing the gang culture in South L.A. to make it a safer community for the youth. Ironically, he was killed the day before he was scheduled for an LAPD anti-street-violence meeting.
Once Hussle reached a new level of success in 2018, he was able to be braggadocios in his songs (as many rappers are) and talk about sitting courtside at Lakers games and driving luxury cars. However, he never shied away from rapping about speaking at city-council meetings, being a strategic and knowledgeable entrepreneur and wanting his hometown of Crenshaw to become a better place.
His debut album made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart and was nominated for Best Rap Album at this year’s Grammys, but lost to Cardi B.
“It’s just hard. Especially men of color losing their lives like that in their own communities,” Irving said. “A lot of rappers and entertainers lose their lives early before they really get to change the world. It is a sad day.”
Shortly after news broke of Hussle’s death, tributes flooded in on social media from players and teams. LeBron James posted a photo of the artist on his Instagram account, writing “Just spoke with you the other day on text bro! Telling you how proud I was of you…This one hurts big time!”
Stephen Curry found out about his death from teammate Kevin Durant before the Golden State Warriors’ game on Sunday night. He was visibly shaken and upset and addressed the incident in the post-game press conference.
“I got to know him last year and had a great conversation about who he was as a person, what he stood for, what his message was, how he tried to inspire people considering where he grew up and how he turned it into something extremely powerful and represented an entire city,” Curry said. “So definitely a sad, sad, tragic event.”
Both the LA Clippers and LA Lakers paid tribute to the hometown star. The Clippers hung a custom jersey that read Hussle on the back, simply writing “Rest in Peace, Nipsey Hussle.”
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The Lakers took to Instagram to share a photo of the rapper sitting courtside at one of their games dawning gold and purple. “Artist. Activist. Angeleno. L.A. mourns the loss of one of our own,” it read.
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It doesn’t stop there. The list of NBA standouts that used social media to express their sadness about Hussle’s death goes on and on; Tristan Thompson, Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, John Wall and more.
Unfortunately it took a tragedy to serve as a reminder of the close knit bond between NBA players and rappers that are trying to rewrite the script of how their lives were supposed to end up based on where they came from.
It was the basketball-playing millionaires that respected Hussle’s work while he was here, and it’s those same players who are honoring and prolonging his legacy now that he’s gone.
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